After a 7-5 season, and a 21-17 record over three years, Houston has let head coach Tony Levine go. The program's decline after Kevin Sumlin's departure, mixed with likely increased expectations after a new stadium, are likely amongst the key reasons for his ouster.
As of right this second, there haven't been any names linked to this job yet, but that doesn't mean that one near and dear to Ohio State's heart may be considered: Buckeye offensive coordinator Tom Herman.
After failing to secure the Nebraska job, it doesn't look like a Power 5 opening will pop up this season where Herman projects to be a good fit. The conventional wisdom is that a coordinator with the kind of potential and production of a Tom Herman would wait around for a fairly big time job to open up, perhaps next year when a few lower level Big Ten positions could be free.
But don't sleep on Houston. There's a lot about this job that could make it a great fit for Tom Herman, and don't be shocked if he goes after it.
Herman knows these recruiting territories
Tom Herman was born in Cincinnati, and he may be coaching Ohio State now, but that doesn't mean his background is restricted to the Big Ten and midwest. Herman spent 1998-2008 coaching exclusively in Texas, from tiny Texas Lutheran to Rice, Sam Houston State, and Texas State. He also spent 2009-2011 at Iowa State in the Big 12, where he continued to recruit Texas. Being successful at Houston means knowing how to build and maintain relationships locally, and there won't be many guys on the market who have more experience in the Lone Star State than Tom Herman.
Herman has been a very solid recruiter at Ohio State as well, and there is no shortage of quality talent even just a few miles from Houston's campus. When you factor in Herman's offensive sophistication, and the number of high school players with an advanced understanding of complicated passing offensives from Texas high school football, and Houston's reputation as a program for offensive creativity, and you have a match that could be potentially devastating in The American.
Actually, about that.
Houston is a place where you can win a lot of games pretty quickly
The cupboard isn't bare at Houston right now. The team struggled at QB this season, but both John O'Korn and Greg Ward Jr were only sophomores this season. There is plenty of three-star level returning talent at running back, wideout, and along the defensive line, and there are some bigger school transfers in the secondary that will be coming back for one more year. With the right, young, energetic coach with a penchant for recruiting, there is no reason the talent level at Houston can't improve even more.
The American doesn't have a overpowering, juggernaut program right now, and probably won't in the near future. Memphis is likely to need a new coach in the next few years. UConn and Temple have rebuilding jobs that will take awhile, and neither are located in prime recruiting areas. The best programs in the conference, Cincinnati, UCF and East Carolina, have advantages, but aren't bringing in swarms of high four-star players to overwhelm everybody.
Houston had the fifth ranked class in the AAC in 2014 and currently has the fifth for this year. There is no reason the Cougars shouldn't be in the top three every season,and if they are, they're going to put themselves in a position to be highly successful in the conference. A few seasons of winning nine games at Houston is only going to make Herman even more competitive for a major coaching job down the road.
It isn't just about location and conference, though.
Houston has the resources to win now
Houston has a brand new, on campus, 40,000 seat stadium that just opened, and could play a game or two in an NFL stadium if they needed to. Per USA TODAY, their athletic department had a $42 million dollar budget, enough to be competitive with their AAC peers.
As far as salaries go, using the 2013 USA TODAY assistant coach database, Houston was able to pony up coordinator salaries that were competitive with the rest of the conference ($300,000 for coordinators), and for the right coach, might be willing to spent a little more, especially if Herman wanted a more experienced hand on defense. Those numbers wouldn't keep Houston from being successful.
Also according to USA TODAY, Tom Herman made $550,000 last year at Ohio State. Often, top coordinators from major schools have to take a paycut, or at least, make a lateral move, to get their first head coaching job. Houston's Tony Levine made a little north of a million according to that database, and if they're willing to pay in that same neighborhood, there is no reason they wouldn't be able to afford Herman.
Tulsa, who a source tells us is interested in Herman, only paid Bill Blankenship $759,436. If there was a bidding war between those two schools, Houston would win.
Who knows what's going to be there next year?
If Herman wanted to be a head coach back in Texas, or at least, at a place where he would be regularly recruiting Texas, there aren't that many other options, and who knows what will be open each year? Houston will be able to pay more, and probably win more, than the other non-Big 12 Texas schools, and it's open right now. If he wanted to wait for a Big Ten job, Illinois, Purdue, Indiana, Maryland or Rutgers could all potentially be open next season, and all would pay more, but there is no guarantee Herman could be able to grab any of those, and winning there might be harder than it would be at Houston. The coaching carousel moves quickly, and you don't want to miss your chance.
Will Houston hire Tom Herman? There is no guarantee he'd even interview, let along get the job, and the Cougars will probably not lack for qualified applicants for the position. But this is a possibility that shouldn't be discounted by Buckeye fans, and if it happened, he could be very successful. Gene Smith might want to avoid scheduling them in the near future, just in case.